By Briana Seftel
Vibrant, passionate, seductive: Spain’s second city truly has it all. Blending a coastal Mediterranean setting with whimsical architecture and an exciting food and nightlife scene, Barcelona is a destination in of itself and world’s away from Madrid. From beaches to bustling boulevards, a visit to Barcelona is sure to be memorable.
What to Know
The capital of Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region, Barcelona has always marched to the beat of its own drum. Catalonians proudly display their flag from balconies, while all of the street signs are in Catalan first and Spanish second. You’ll feel the energy of the city everywhere you go, from the beaches of Barceloneta to the winding lanes of the Gothic Quarter. Perhaps the biggest draw to Barcelona is Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect who left an indelible mark on the city through his whimsical architecture.
When to Go
The best time to visit Barcelona is in May and June, when the weather is pleasantly warm and the start of summer festivals bring a renewed energy to the city. Avoid the months of July and August; the weather is hot and humid and many locals take their vacations during this time, which means certain businesses could be closed. September and October are also great months to visit.
How to Get Around
Barcelona’s excellent metro system provides easy access to all of the city’s main attractions. Inexpensive and reliable, taking the metro is by far the easiest way to get around. There's also a clean and efficient bus service that serves Barcelona center, but frequent traffic means this option could take up more of your time. For day trips from Barcelona, consider taking the Renfe train departing from several stations within the city center.
Where to Eat
You can’t visit Barcelona without trying Catalan cuisine, paella, jamon, seafood and tapas. One of the best places to experience Barcelona’s food culture is at La Boqueria market. Exotic fruit and vegetables, sizzling tapas, freshly caught seafood and cured meats are just a few tasty morsels you can try at this market located just steps from the main tourist boulevard La Rambla.
- Bar del Pla Carrer de Montcada, 2 Phone: +34 932 68 30 03
- El Portalón Carrer dels Banys Nous, 20 Phone: +34 933 02 11 87
- Tapas 24 Carrer de la Diputació, 269 Phone: +34 934 88 09 77
- 9 Granados Carrer d'Enric Granados, 9, Phone: +34 915 27 63 80
- Bar Ramón Carrer Dr. Martí i Julià, 93, 08903 L'Hospitalet de Llobregat
- Quimet & Quimet Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25, 08004 Phone: +34 934 42 31 42
- La Cova Fumada Carrer del Baluart, 56, 08003 Phone: +34 932 21 40 61
What to See
The Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s masterpiece. Work on this cathedral begin in 1882 and continues to this day. Whether you choose to admire from the exterior or purchase a ticket to go inside, you’ll be blown away by this architectural wonder. Drawing inspiration from nature, Gaudi envisioned a place of worship unlike any other. The estimated completion date is 2026, a century after the architect’s death.
Experience the true essence of the city in the Gothic Quarter, home to some of the best preserved medieval architecture in Europe. Wander the maze of narrow streets and squares and feel like you’ve stepped back in time in Barcelona’s oldest district. Visit the 600-year-old cathedral and take a breather in its cloister with a beautiful tropical garden.
Travel tip: A 10-minute walk from the museum is Parc Ciutadella, the largest green space in the city.
Located in the Gothic Quarter, the Picasso Museum offers a fascinating look into one of greatest painters of the 20th century. Filling five grand mansions, the museum follows Picasso’s early works as an art student to his later, more well known abstract masterpieces.
Another of Gaudi’s celebrated works is Park Guell. Perched atop the city, the park is 30 acres of vibrant mosaics, playful statues and breathtaking views. Originally intended as high-end housing, the project flopped and became a public park instead, much to the joy of locals and visitors. A popular attraction within the park is the Gaudi House Museum, Gaudi's former home turned museum.
Take the funicular to the top of Montjuic overlooking Barcelona and explore its many fantastic attractions. Peep art at the Catalonia National Art Museum (MNAC) and Miró Foundation, visit the Montjuic fortress or walk through time in the Poble Espanol. Don’t miss the evening light show at the Magic Fountain below the Palau Nacional.
Tips and Tricks
The first language spoken in Barcelona is Catalan. While everyone speaks Spanish, it’s recommended to learn a few key phrases in Catalan to win points with the locals.
Much like the rest of Spain, locals tend to eat meals later. Lunch is usually 1pm to 4pm, while generally begins at 9pm.
If you plan on using the metro, purchase the 10-ride pass for €10, as single trips cost €2 alone.
Barcelona is soccer obsessed. Check to see if FC Barcelona is playing a home game at Camp Nou, the largest stadium in Europe!
If visiting religious sites like the Barcelona Cathedral and La Sagrada Familia, it's advised to cover up your knees and shoulders before entering.
An hour from Barcelona lies the mystical mountain range of Montserrat, considered the spiritual and cultural heart of Catalonia. A funicular leads visitors to the 11th-century monastery, home to the famous statue of the Virgin of Montserrat. Meaning “serrated mountain” in Catalan, the monastery’s dramatic location and religious importance make Montserrat one of the most popular day trips from Barcelona.
Just 22 miles south of Barcelona is Sitges, a seaside resort with an eclectic spirit. With a vibrant LGBTQ scene, 17 sandy beaches and a charming old quarter, Sitges is a great day trip or weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona.
Situated between Barcelona and Costa Brava, Girona is a delightful riverside city with tons of history. Wander the lanes of the Jewish Quarter, one of the best preserved in the world, admire the medieval city walls and step inside the imposing Girona Cathedral. Game of Thrones fans will recognize Girona as the setting for Braavos in season 6.